On January 8th my mother passed away. She was 88 years old, and had lived a full life. I've written about her before, and decided some time ago that I wanted to give a eulogy for her when the time came. This is what I wrote for that eulogy - delivered at her funeral, officiated by her Lutheran pastor, a week after her passing...
Betty, Daughter, Widow, Sister, Mother, Grandmother – Grandma, Great Grandmother - G.G.,
Who loved her children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren, music, birds, dogs, and angels… has died.
We’re here today to share our memories, to laugh and cry together, to hold one another as we grieve. As a minister, I write eulogies and conduct memorial services; yet, it is a little odd and scary to be eulogizing my mother today.
Betty was born on June 23, 1925. As a child, she played with friends, went to school, and did all the normal things that an average girl of her era would do. Her family was never well off, so these things included collecting bottles from around the parking lot of the nearby tavern on Saturday and Sunday mornings, then turning the bottles in for the deposit money. As she grew, she learned to cook and clean and sew – all skills that were useful when she left school at the age of 15 to work variously as a resort maid, babysitter, and housekeeper, before taking a job at the chicken farm.
It was at the farm where she first met two brothers, who introduced her to their younger brother, Virgil. She and Virgil dated, and when he and his brothers enlisted in the Army, he asked her to marry him. In October, 1943, due to be sent to Europe, Virgil came home for a few days’ leave. They got a marriage license and walked to the parsonage of the Old Brick Church with Mom’s brother and his wife, and were married.
Almost two years later, their son – my brother – was born and named after our dad. After the war ended, Mom moved as Dad took different jobs on farms, until the late 1950’s when he began working at the GM plant. I was born shortly before they bought their home in The Grove, and that’s where we lived while my brother finished high school and I grew up.
Eventually, she and Dad were able to fulfill a long-time dream after their retirement. They moved to Up North to a small home on a small lake. It was supposed to be their time to relax, fish a little, travel a little, and enjoy life. And for a time they were able to live their ideal life. Then Dad’s health problems intervened, and they moved back south, living with my Uncle Bill until they purchased their own home.
Mom – and Dad – were family-centered people. Mom would sometimes make a big pot of soup, then call nieces and nephews to come over for a pot luck meal. Our immediate family, plus some extended family, would make it an evening – eating together, then playing a few games of three-deck Canasta. More than one of my cousins looked forward to those meals and casual evenings. I looked forward to being asked to sit in for a hand or two, while someone tended a baby.
Mom loved her children – and was thrilled to become a grandmother. I know that she shared a special bond with all of her six grandchildren, and she always remembered them on birthdays and holidays. She had a big heart – and opened it to new members of the family easily. When grandchildren started marrying, she welcomed their spouses with open arms. I know that the weddings she was able to attend were particularly special to her, and she was overjoyed to be at those special occasions. She was thrilled when great-grandchildren arrived!
Mom’s love and care wasn’t restricted to human members of the family, either. We always had pets - some of our dogs showed up at the back door, lost and hungry; others came from the Humane Society. Some of you may not remember that Mom also had birds a long time ago. Though she stopped keeping birds in the house, she remained keenly interested in the activities of birds in her yard, and kept feeders filled for them.
Focusing on her family, Mom wasn’t active out in the community until later in her life. When they settled into life here, they signed up with the Retired Senior Volunteer Program, and began helping with the senior lunches at one of the churches in town, and walking at First Lutheran together. After Dad passed away, Mom stopped volunteering for a short time – then signed up as a Book Buddy, helping students with learning how to read at one of the elementary schools. Somewhere in there, she became fascinated with angels – and amassed quite a collection of angel figures over the past decade or so.
What I will remember about Mom, though, is her resilience. She never had an easy life. Mom was not like a delicate, fragile china cup, she was like the thick, heavy mugs used at diners. You know the kind – made to survive having countless servings of strong coffee poured into them, often chipped a little on the side after being dropped a few times. She lived through the deaths of her own parents, who I barely remember. She was diagnosed with breast cancer almost 40 years ago, back when survival rates weren’t as good as they are now, and endured surgery and treatment without complaint. She survived the loss of her husband almost 17 years ago, and so many other challenges and losses. I’m sure there were some we never knew about, too. Every time, she simply accepted what she couldn’t change, and looked forward to the better days she was sure would come.
When I officiate at memorial services I often begin – or end - by saying:
“Birth is a miracle of love and courage, bringing light into the world;
Death is a loss of light, but no less an act of courage,
For we are born from – and return to – mystery.”
Betty brought light into the world, lived her 88 years of life to the fullest, with great love. We are lucky to have been part of that life, to have borne witness to her commitment to family, her kindness and her courage. The one thing she wanted was to continue living in her own home to the end. I’m glad that we were able to make that happen for her, with the generous help of her caregiver.
What she taught us was to live life open-hearted, to love generously. What I know is that, while she is gone, the love she gave is not. Love lives on, love never dies.
Mom is gone, but her light and love lives on in those of us left behind. Let us honor her memory with our lives, living with courage and great love.